My First Half-Term with Standards-Based Grading (Learning-Objectives-Based Grading)

Wow! What a ride! I’m almost half-way through my first term with SBG and I’ve learned quite a bit. Most of it the hard way. Before I go in to my experiences I want to make a proposal to the SBG community.

When explaining what “standards” means in the context of SBG, many of my colleagues respond “are those anything like learning objectives?” On one occasion the person asked if they had anything to do with the state-mandated standards in the primary schools. You can imagine the look on their face when they said this, like I’d just plopped something nasty and rank in their laps. I’ve read of some other SBG adopters running in to similar responses. My suggestion is to start calling SBG Learning-Objectives-Based Assessment Grading. Any instructor who has ever put together a course proposal is more than familiar with learning objectives. We won’t have anyone confusing these standards with the dreaded mandated standards and, most importantly, googling LOBAG (pronounced LOB-G) doesn’t produce any other results, while SBG doesn’t show up until midway down the first search page. Anyway, from here on I’m going to use LOBAG and SBG interchangeably in the hopes that it will catch on.

So what have I learned about implementing SBG (now LOBAG)?  First, I have waaaaaaay to many standards.  You can find a list of my standards in an earlier post.  There just isn’t enough time to assess every standard so I really need to pare things down to the most important ones.  Even dividing my standards into “A” level standards and “C” level standards, there wasn’t enough time to assess every “C” level standard, let alone the more advanced “A” levels (Note: Students must be proficient in all “C” level standards to get a C in the course.  Their grade above a C depends on how many of the “A” level standards they are proficient at).  I’ve already moved several “C” level standards to the more optional “A” level standards, but next term I’ll focus on fewer standards.

The second realization, and this is perhaps the biggest for me, is there is a reason to call assessment assessments and not call them quizzes (besides the fact that there are other ways to assess standards besides quiz-type assessments).  The assessments are part of the learning process.  I don’t have to expect the students to be proficient on the learning objectives the first time round, they can use their mistakes from the assessment to guide their learning for reassessment.  I know I read something to this effect in one of the great blog posts about SBG, but it didn’t sink in until it was thrust in my face.  I love the fact that students will actually look at the comments I write on the assessments and try to understand what they did wrong.

A third thing I’ve learned is that you need to explain the grading scheme multiple times the first several weeks.  I’m lucky because I’m taking part in a project to study student expectations and one thing that came up in the early surveys was that the students didn’t understand LOBAG.  (Another thing that came up was several students thought it was unreasonable that I required them to read the textbook before coming to class.  They felt that if they had read the text there wasn’t much point in coming to class.  Sigh.)

As a corollary to the previous point, I need to communicate how students are doing in a better fashion.  I’ve been using our learning management system, D2L, to post assessment scores, so students have list of how they are doing on each standard.  Without an overview, though, they are pretty overwhelmed and unable to figure out their grades.  Maybe once they are more comfortable with LOBAG they will manage on their own, but until then…  I held conferences with students last week and many were surprised to learn how they were doing in the class.  The great part is many of the students now seem more motivated to work.  I hope this motivation holds up.  I think I need to come up with a way of giving posting grades than D2L.

Grading assessments takes a lot of time if you give them assessments twice a week.  I’d like to branch out into other types of assessments besides quiz-type assessments, which might help relieve some of the tedium of grading.  I also hope that if I have fewer standards I won’t need to assess quite as many standards each time.  I wish I could use more online assessment tools, but since I’m more concerned with process than with the answers it doesn’t seem appropriate in most cases.

These are just the biggest issues I’ve run in to so far.  My overall experience with SBG is great.  I like the fact that students are accountable for what they know, I like how I haven’t had a single student asking for more points or quibbling about their grade.  I like how it has focused my teaching on tangible objectives.  I hope this post will help some of those out there thinking about jumping on the LOBAG bandwagon.  I know my next term with LOBAG will be even better because of my experiences so far.

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